Australia prepares for opener vs. Italy
Tuesday, 7 March 2006
|FORT MYERS, Fla. Manager Jon Deeble knows his team has a difficult road ahead in the World Baseball Classic. Competing in Pool D, Australia will play the powerhouse teams from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, Thursday and Friday, respectively.
But, before the Aussies get to the Goliaths of the group, they must face Team Italy on Tuesday. With several Major Leaguers, including Mike Piazza, who had 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 113 games for the Mets last season, and Frank Catalanotto, who hit .301 and slugged .451 for the Blue Jays in 2005, Deeble is taking nothing for granted.
"I saw their roster," Deeble said. "They've got a good ballclub. It's going to be tough, but we're expecting to win. Whether that happens or not, I'm not sure. But our aim is to win. We want to win all three [games]. But I think we match up pretty good against them."
While every member of the Australian team grew up Down Under, Deeble is dismayed that is not the case for all teams.
"I think that's disappointing," he said. "Guys that have never been to Italy playing on their team. But, anyway, that's not our problem. All the guys on our roster are true Australians, and you're playing Italy and they've got a group of Major League guys that have never been to Italy. But we can't control that, so you can't worry about things you can't control. Our job is to go out there and try and beat them. We're going to give them a competition."
Right-hander John Stephens, who joined his teammates here Sunday afternoon after staying, with Deeble's permission, in camp with the Orioles, gets the start against Italy to open the Classic.
Stephens, 26, was signed by Baltimore as a non-drafted free agent in 1996, when he was just 16. He has also spent time in the organizations of the Red Sox and Cubs, and was the starting pitcher in the 2002 MLB All-Star Futures Game. He was also a member of the 2004 silver medal-winning team at the Athens Olympics, and is expected to open the season with Baltimore's Triple-A Ottawa Lynx.
"I'm expecting to just go out there and get a good performance," Stephens said. "We need to win the first one, because it's going to be tough against Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. That first game is going to be key for us."
While Stephens is looking forward to facing Team Italy's lineup, he has not yet had a chance to study it.
"I'll get together with [pitching coach] Phil Dale later on and we're going to go over it," he said. "It'll be good. I've thrown against a few of them before so I've got some experience. It'll be interesting to see how everyone else does, if we can pull it together with just being together this short time. I think we'll be OK."